ALTHOUGH this weekend's meeting between George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev is being billed as a ``mini-summit,'' its importance should not be overlooked. The outcome of this meeting, where the leaders of the two superpowers will discuss the current situation in the world one-on-one, will determine the outlines of a future, bigger summit. Despite great progress in Soviet-American relations in recent years, these strides forward have been misperceived. They have been viewed as a contest of wills, even if purely peaceful, and not as full-scale, disinterested cooperation or co-creation in the interest of both countries. Hence the terminology of sports - our relationship is termed a match with ``winners'' and ``losers.''
No doubt the meeting will have to reflect in some way the new White House line on promoting perestroika in the USSR. The question here cannot be so much of aid on the United States's part as of helping to create an international climate favorable to perestroika, and the expansion of possibilities for mutually advantageous economic, scientific, and technological cooperation. And certainly it is not only a matter of the US's position, but also of Soviet steps facilitating such cooperation. A good deal remains to be done.
After his Wyoming meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, Secretary of State James Baker, in his speech to the New York Foreign Policy Association, described possible American assistance to Soviet perestroika as a potential area of Soviet-American cooperation. It was a signal departure from the United States's former stand on Soviet reform, which could be characterized as indifferent.
Washington has realized that restructuring in the USSR is not just the affair of the Soviet people. Its success bears directly on the success of the ``new political thinking'' with its emphasis on nonconfrontation, its appeal to universal human values and world problems, its flexibility and readiness for compromise, and its strong condemnation of worldwide power politics.
Washington has also been favorably influenced by the Soviet Union's frank concession that the construction of the radar at Krasnoyarsk was a direct breach of the ABM treaty, and that by introducing troops into Afghanistan the Soviet Union violated generally accepted standards of conduct, setting itself in opposition to the world community.
The current leaders of the USSR and the US refuse to play according to the established rules of diplomatic confrontation. They are breaking down traditional procedures, aware that changes in international relations are proceeding so fast that if they stick to traditional approaches, they may be late. Being ``late'' in the context of present-day Soviet-American relations means being unable to exercise one's influence on the improvement of international stability and making the evolution of international relations predictable.
Though the coming meeting will be a freewheeling dialogue without any official agenda, the leaders of the two countries will certainly deal with events in Eastern Europe, where rapid changes call for a measure of Soviet-American understanding. This can be improved by a candid exchange of assessments of the current situation and the exploration of prospects for its evolution.
A similarly frank exchange of views may be held on the situation in the Western hemisphere - more specifically, Central America. The Soviet Union is honestly complying with its commitments regarding support for the peaceful settlement of conflicts in that region.
It is to be hoped that the US administration, too, will refrain from throwing a wrench in the wheels of this process.
Another hopeful topic of discussion will be the resolution of the Afghanistan issue. The USSR and the US continue their confrontation in Afghanistan through arms supplies to the warring sides. The situation shows conclusively that neither the Kabul government nor the mujahideen have chances of an early decisive victory. The bloodshed goes on, leading to continuing casualties among the civilian population. I am convinced that national reconciliation in Afghanistan is possible.
But in order for this to happen, the interests of peaceful settlement must be put above the interests of ``winning'' for one or the other of the warring sides.
It would be unfortunate if the participants in the Mediterranean summit did not discuss the situation in the Middle East. The Soviet and American leaders, who have done much to get the process of normalization in the Middle East going, could use the influence and prestige of their two countries to avert the failure of an incipient settlement.
After a rather long stop, the locomotive of Soviet-American relations has again begun to gather speed, and its destination is clear: Following this rather spontaneous session in the Mediterranean, there will be a summit next spring or summer that diplomats in both the US and the Soviet Union will have a chance to prepare for at length.